The Final Entry

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Africa » Uganda » Central Region » Entebbe
August 20th 2016
Published: August 22nd 2016
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And then it was time to go home. I begin this entry over a farewell airport beer (as is tradition) - one last overpriced Nile Special to spend my remaining shillings on and to ruminate over the last three months with. It’s been a long yet short three months, and it is almost surreal that it is coming to a close. It has been a constant contrast of enjoying the adventures and offerings of a foreign world mixed with longing to be with my family, to feel my dad’s hands on my shoulders, to join in my mom’s and Troy’s infectious laughter, to be embraced into one of Drew’s hugs, and to be understood by my sister, who is like another limb to me, and an especially helpful one at that. It’s only a matter of hours… But now to recount the last couple of weeks, which have been a lot of fun…

Safari was truly incredible – how can it not be? And believe it or not, I got my leopard – three actually, a mother and her two cubs. I was moved to tears, perhaps lubricated by the three beers I’d consumed during our lake boat tour previous in the day. The leopard is such a beautiful, elusive creature, and to see it in the wild was really exciting. She moved so gracefully, her pelt almost shimmering it was so thick and glossy. Though our glimpse was brief, it was one of my favorite parts.

Another highlight was the rhino trek – during Uganda’s chaotic period of instability the local rhinoceroses were hunted literally to extinction; the sanctuary we visited is an attempt that began in the eighties to re-habituate the animals. The sanctuary started off with rhino donations from Kenya and the United States, and through careful protection and breeding they now number 16. Though they technically live “in the wild”, the rhinos are carefully monitored and protected twenty four/seven by rangers to ensure they don’t face the same demise as their predecessors. We were lucky to visit two separate groups, one group a mother with her two calves, and another group of three adolescents. It was an intimate experience, a rare opportunity to view rhinos so close without being within an enclosure. They are beautiful creatures, and it breaks my heart how desiccated they have become. For. Shame.

Other highlights included driving across the quintessential African landscape, in both the Queen Elizabeth II and Murchison Falls national park, which were dotted with elephants and giraffe and antelope and kob, some far away, some very near. It’s really surreal to experience, and I’m always awed by the magnificence and diversity of these animals, especially in comparison to home where nothing even remotely similar exists. In total we did five game drives and two boat tours – one on the channel between Lake Edward and Lake George, and one on the Nile River in Murchison Falls national park. Additionally, we visited Kibale Forest and did a trek through the jungle; we were able to spot about five different chimpanzees. After doing the gorilla trek a number of weeks ago, the chimp trek was somewhat underwhelming (talk about spoiled!). The chimpanzees, unlike the gorilla families, are not habituated, and thus you don’t get that close of an experience. The chimps were high in the dense foliage; thanks to my high optical zoom I was able to get a few good pictures but wasn’t afforded the intimacy we had with our gorilla family.

Murchison Falls itself was incredible to experience, a narrow gorge through with huge volumes of the Nile River is forced, creating a mammoth gushing waterfall that is truly a site to behold and for which pictures could never do justice. It was breathtaking and probably some of the best scenery of our trip. The rest of the park was beautiful as well; on the evening game drive the sky was uplifting shades of blue, with sunbeams pouring down Lion King style onto the beautiful green landscape below. I enjoyed the scenery as much as the spectacular creatures.

After two days in Murchison, we headed south to Jinja, a town located at the source of the Nile River on Lake Victoria. Our first order of business was to visit the Nile Special brewery – though it was cool to see the process from barley to bottle, naturally my favorite part was the free samples at the end in the pub, where they even had a fooseball table! Though the tour was fun, the main reason for visiting Jinja is because this is the main hub for white water rafting on the Nile. This rafting activity is probably hands down one of the most fun days I’ve ever had in my life; it was thrilling, exhilarating, exhausting, and terrifying. We did a few practice flips in the water before setting off down the river, and when our guide (who had a wonderful sense of humor) informed us that the first rapid was a 5, the highest grade you can raft, I laughed – oh Koa. Five minutes later, after being submerged under a waterfall, I asked what grade that one actually was, to which Koa replied – a five, I just said that. I’m like, cowabunga dude, bring it on! We hit many more rapids, and tipped three times in total. As it turned out the rapids we went down were all grade 4, 4+ (whatever that means) and 5s. For a first time white water rafting adventure, it was pretty damn gnarly bro. And as much as I love adrenaline, I actually kind of hated semi-drowning in the water, and experienced genuine fear. Even snorkeling is a struggle for me, it takes me a while to understand the water and stop hyperventilating so I can breathe. So getting tossed into seriously BIG boiling waves, with no sense of orientation to where the boat was, sent me into a bit of a panic. Fortunately, the first time we flipped I was rescued almost immediately by a boat of friendly South Koreans (who joked I had to pay them 10 000 shillings for their kindness); the second time I was able to hang on to the boat (though I found myself underneath, an experience I found most unpleasant); the third time we got friggin launched. As I surfaced, coughing the water out of my lungs and struggling to regulate my breathing, failing to follow the directions they give you in the safety briefing (legs up, don’t panic, and enjoy the ride!) my companion Jillian floats by me all calm as cucumber with a “Hiiiii Carrie!” as she bobs away, and I’m torn between laughter at her hilarity, and real true anxiety. Once I saw her, I remembered to put my feet up, and looked up to the heavens, not calm enough to pray but just concentrating enough to get myself the F out of dodge. I managed my way out of the rapids (and I mean these are HUGE waves, it’s really idiotic that we float rubber dingies down these anyway and call it fun), and despite the beckoning waves from other rafters encouraging me to gamely swim back into the rapids for the thrill of it, I remained happily where I was, able to regain my calm and regulate my breathing, until a rescuer kayaker came along to give me a tow back to the safety of our raft. Naturally, as I had my arms and legs wrapped around the front of his boat in a very undignified manner, he found it appropriate to ask me about my marriage status (Not married? 27!? Sorry! So sad. You can be me my wife?!...Ask me again in 15 years Albert!). But I’ll tell you what, the Nile Specials never tasted so good after that day…and ironically, “Nile Special” was the name of the last wave that tipped us.

It was a truly thrilling, life affirming experience, that I highly recommend to anyway who ever finds themselves in the east of Uganda. Jinja, the town that is the hub for this activity, is reminiscent of a west coast surf town, with a global community working as guides, kayakers, bartenders, etc. I would love to return to do the experience all over again, especially with the companionship of my sister or brothers (hint hint!). I couldn’t get enough of that ride and, despite how much I struggle in water, would do it over and over again. Best. Day. Ever.

After Jinja, our tremendous guides Silas and David returned us to Entebbe on Saturday afternoon. Silas had arranged for a troupe of traditional musicians and dancers to come to our hostel and perform for us, which was really fun and cool to be a part of. We all made plans afterward to enjoy a night out on the town, but I was one of the last ones awake, and fast asleep by 11:00.

We had a few days left in Entebbe before leaving the country, so on Sunday we took a three-hour ferry to the Sesse Islands, an archipelago of about 80 islands in Victoria Lake. By this point, I was completely exhausted from the nine days of safari, with full days beginning at 5:30 and ending at 9:00. Sunday on the island I blew my goat skin budget (a souvenir I was hoping to bring home) on Nile Specials, and then spent the next day lounging by the pool, attempting to even out the awful tan lines I’ve acquired in the last three months. We returned to Entebbe the following day, spending our time idly as we waited to fly out. We said our goodbyes to the staff and guides who became our friends, and now we prepare ourselves for the 35 hour journey ahead of us.

And at long last, the plane began descending over the Saskatchewan quilt, and my stomach got fluttery and my heart beat faster, eager to reclaim the part of it that I left here on May 13. Soon I’ll be sitting in Taverna Italian restaurant, with my hand on Tyler’s leg next to mine, my brother and sister across from me, as we pick up right where we left off, like I’d never left at all.

This trip was a gift, and like any travel, has taught me so much about the world, but much more about myself. About my strengths and weaknesses, often which overlap; my dream, my hopes and aspirations. I experienced joy, sadness, fulfillment, loneliness, annoyance, and most of all immense gratitude for all the people and good things in my life. I learned I am full of competence in one moment, and utter incompetence the next. I learned I am both everything and nothing I want to be. I learned I love this world and all its inhabitants as much as I hate them, with all of our flaws and shortcomings that render life a living nightmare for so many. I learned I love the discomfort of being away from all that is known and familiar, and that there is no place I’m happier and would rather be than sitting around my familial kitchen table, or parked on the couch at Tyler and Shawns’, laughing unstoppably at the antics and humor of my boyfriends’ best friends.

It has been a study in contrasts, and learning that one of my greatest struggles is learning to be happy and satisfied with what is right in front of me. This trip, as much as it has taught me gratitude and humility, has made me aware of the need to embrace the present moment. I have shone the light on myself as one of those deplorable, spoiled, over indulged individuals who can’t find satisfaction in all that is before her. To put it less harshly, I need to focus on living in the now, man, focusing on what is before me, chewing what’s in my mouth before taking another bite.

I speak this all now, but I know it’s only a matter of time before my heart and brain start longing for another adventure, bored of home and all the splendor in my charmed life. Though I long to settle down and make a family, my feet are restless, and with little to tie me down I am sure it will not be long before I begin scheming my next big adventure. But, I vow to work harder at enjoying the present, enjoy the struggle of looking for my first job as a professional, the early and late and long hours, the commonplace role of setting up a home for myself. I will consciously force myself to appreciate the magic of these things, rather than dreaming of beaches and faraway mountains. There is adventure in life at home, I just need to open my eyes and appreciate it. IKEA can be exciting...right? They say “love is the greatest adventure” – I suppose that means I can have my home and adventure in one, and if I look at it the right way, I never have to have one without the other.

I’ve said about all I need to - which almost never happens. Moving forward, I will live with more awareness than ever of the need to live with love and grace and understanding. I hope to work hard to change the things that are within my control, and accept that which isn’t. This scholarship and my education hold me accountable. Though I have much, and our country is full of opportunity and hope, there is so much disparity that wracks our lands, the legacy of our collective histories. There is much work to be done to ensure the peaceful future we dream of for our children.

For now, though, it’s time to end this writing exercise of mine with a nice cold pilsner on my parents verandah, where I sit now overlooking our beautiful homestead, waiting eagerly for my three best friends in the world to join me, and my other two best friends Maci and Cash panting at my feet. Cash wants his rock thrown, and it is time to say goodbye. Life is too good.

Thank you, once again and for the final time, for reading. I can’t wait to catch up in person with you!

Love always,

Carrie Ann


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